Alfio’s Bowtie Diaries: Vive la France!
Bonjour! In honor of Total Wine & More’s 2013 Tour de Vin, we met up with Alfio Moriconi, Vice President of European Imports and Sales, on his recent trip to Bordeaux. Alfio was in town to visit with some of Total Wine & More’s French producers prior to attending VinExpo 2013. As you may remember from last year’s Bowtie Diaries in Tuscany, Alfio has been in the wine business for over four decades — first as a retailer, then as an importer—and has traveled frequently and extensively to Europe in search of small, family-owned wine producers. You can find Alfio’s gems at your local Total Wine under the “Alfio Moriconi Selection” section and on the labels of some of his specialty selection wines. Alfio’s signature look is his bowtie, hence the Alfio Bowtie Diaries. Over the next few days, we will follow Alfio as he travels through Bordeaux, bringing you some of the highlights from his trip so that you can learn more about this famous wine region and its producers.
We found Alfio getting ready to board Air France Flight 39. Next stop, Paris! Seven and a half hours, one croissant, and a quick connection in Charles de Gaulle Airport later, we were on our way to Bordeaux.
Bordeaux is naturally divided into two sections, the Right Bank and the Left Bank, by the Gironde estuary. We headed to the Right Bank first, where the most common grape found is Merlot. The two prestigious regions of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are both found in the Right Bank. Wines in the Right Bank are generally less tannic and more fruit-driven in flavor than those of the Left Bank. Our first stop was Château de Ferrand in Saint-Émilion, which is owned by the family of Baron Bich, of Bic pen family fame.
In 1955, the wines of Saint-Émilion were classified by the French government into two groups, Premier Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru Classé, to identify the quality of the wines. Each Saint-Émilion wine’s classification must be updated every 10 years, thus these vineyards have to continuously prove the quality of their wines in an attempt to achieve Grand Cru Classé status. At Château de Ferrand, we met up with the Managing Director, Thomas Guibert, who (like most producers in Bordeaux) was concerned by the delay of the grapevine flowering. Because of the number of cold and rainy days this past spring, pollination did not occur until much later, and subsequently fewer grapes grew on each vine. Ideally, the warmer and drier the temperature, the more berries that grow, determining the ultimate yield of the crop.
We helped assemble a few wooden crates for Total Wine & More’s order of the next vintage of Château de Ferrand and we were on our way to see good friends of Alfio’s, Florence and Henri-Louis Fagard, at Château de Cornemps. However, before we left, we tried the ’05 and ’08 vintages that received 90 and 91 points from Wine Spectator, respectively – delicious!!!
Château de Cornemps’ wine cellar and facilities are located underneath an 11th century Roman church in the small village of Petit-Palais-et-Cornemps, a small commune within Saint-Émilion. Alfio coincidentally met the Fagards and their wines back when he first started in the wine business. As Madame Fagard recalls, Alfio came into a restaurant one night where they were eating dinner. Alfio had been traveling from Bordeaux on his way to the Champagne region of France, and he asked the waiter for the best local wine. The Fagards overheard Alfio’s conversation and brought over their wine, Château de Cornemps. Thirty years later, the quality and affordability still remain and Château de Cornemps is one of Total Wine & More’s best valued Bordeaux wines! The quality of Cornemps begins with the Fagard’s efforts in the vineyards, and it continues as the wine is aged in cement vats underneath the church, which is a perfect climate for aging as the temperature of the wine remains cool and consistent. The use of cement vats in Bordeaux is one of the things that is noticeably different from Tuscany – nowadays almost all winemakers in Bordeaux use cement vats for part of the aging process verses oak or stainless steel.
After a great visit with the Fagards we were on our way to Pomerol. The elegant and refined wines of Pomerol fetch some of the highest prices in Bordeaux. For example, Château Pétrus 2005 retails for $5,499.99! Just a few feet up the road from Château Pétrus, we met up with François Estager and his mother, Michele Estager, at Château La Cabanne. François took over the family vineyard after his late father, Jean Pierre Estager, passed away in 2002. At Château La Cabanne, François showed us remnants of a fire that destroyed their property a couple of years ago, and how he has rebuilt a new state-of-the art facility that produces wines from their family vineyards – Château La Cabanne, Château Haut-Maillet, and Château Plincette. If you are looking for an excellent wine from Pomerol, but don’t want to pay the Pétrus price, you should look no further than Château La Cabanne!
Besides the three family vineyards in Pomerol, the Estager family also owns and operates Château La Papeterie in Montage-Saint-Émilion (the crossroads of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol).
It is at Château La Papeterie where we finally ended our day of touring the Right Bank, and we enjoyed a delicious five course meal with Madame Estager including some French favorites: pâté, escargot, and the table de formage for dessert!
We’ll have part two of Alfio’s adventures tomorrow, stay tuned!
For more great photos of Alfio’s travels, check out our Flickr page here.